The voluntary sector is widely acknowledged as containing very large numbers of organisations that make an enormous contribution to well-being and social cohesion in the UK. It encompasses charities, social enterprises, mutuals, cooperatives, and many less formal voluntary and community organisations. We know a great deal from survey data about patterns of individual giving to charities, and about patterns of volunteering. But there is a substantial gap in the availability of high-quality data about voluntary organisations. And it is argued that better-quality information and evidence would lead to the contribution of those organisations being properly recognised, leading in turn to higher levels of public and voluntary support for them.
This project seeks to respond to this need by creating the first national database on the population of organisations forming the third sector through bringing together information about charities with information about different kinds of noncharitable civil society organisations (including Community Interest Companies, Co-operatives and Mutuals, and non-profit Companies Limited by Guarantee).
Then we will link this national database of third sector organisations with various other datasets. They include the Business Structure Database (BSD), a central government dataset on organisations, enabling us to identify third sector organisations on the BSD and to obtain data on the income, staffing and geography of third sector organisations where this has been previously lacking.
We will also link up with open data on government and NHS spending, to give a detailed picture of which third sector organisations are involved in partnering with government in the delivery of public services, and information on the distribution of grants to voluntary organisations across the country.
The project will open up new avenues for research on, for example, the survival and growth of third sector organisations; the contribution of the third sector to public service delivery; the level of voluntary sector activity in different parts of the country. In this way, we will make the contribution of the sector much more visible to stakeholders.
In strategic terms our work will provide an important demonstration of the uses of administrative data for research on organisations - a field in which most work to date has focussed on administrative data on individuals.
It will result in a step-change in the quality of the information base about the third sector, which will provide a foundational and sustainable resource for decision making and policy development. This will be of value to funders (such as charitable foundations), central and local government, local and regional councils for voluntary service, which sustain these organisations locally, and commissioners of public services such as the NHS, which rely substantially on the voluntary sector to deliver services.